This is a continuation of last week’s The Vanguard’s Decision. I hope you can excuse the irregularity of posts the last few weeks. Exams have finally come, and once they finish, I should be able to return to a more regular schedule. Anyway, I hope you enjoy this piece!
The sky blazed like fire as the sun set amidst a host of black clouds and Ambard entered the chief tent of the army of Miris. There, within the white walls under a tattered banner sat the Prince Virys, the young commander of the force in place of his father. He leaned forward in his seat as Ambard entered, surveying the bloodied warrior carefully.
“Well met!” said the prince. “It is lucky you found me when you did – much longer and we might not have been standing.”
“You’re welcome,” Ambard replied. “Though I must say I was surprised to find you where we did. Most of our men went a different direction searching for you – did you not take the usual route?”
“Of course not. We prefer to keep our movements unnoticed, but it seems that we were spotted and tracked, for we were set upon rather suddenly and without warning.”
“Perhaps you must look to your spies. But that is not why I am here. I must ask a favor of you, noble prince.”
“I would have two horses – as I said, we did not expect to see you this way, and half my group sought for you along the main route. Also, Paltoren is not far behind us, only about a day or two on foot, and we must tell them that we’ve established contact with you.”
“Then by all means, take the horses. We have precious few, since many were slain in the battle, but I will give to you the fastest, so that we might be joined all the sooner.”
“Thank you.” Ambard bowed low, and went from the tent. Outside, the darkened sunlight fell on the dark grass of the hill, shining with red blood. All around, more white tents had been erected and more banners placed around the makeshift camp at the top of the hill. His men were waiting for him, and followed as he walked down to the place where the remaining horses had been tied up. Releasing two of the horses, he selected two of his men and sent them on their way, racing north and east toward their goals.
Several miles east, Rodden Karkomin rode atop his dark horse, surveying the landscape in the last light of the sun. It had looked ashen and barren before, but the red sunlight made it seem almost volcanic. He rode at the head of twenty thousand soldiers, along with nearly a thousand refugees from Randein who had desired to stay and help fight.
He was very worried, and as such pressed with the other captains to continue as far as they could while daylight remained. They set up camp in the dark, and Rodden only slept fitfully.
They were up again with the dawn, marching through rough roads soaked with rain from the night before. The dark clouds still dominated the sky, and far off in the distance they could hear the rumbles of thunder and see the flashes of lightning. Rodden felt more exposed with every mile they traveled. The enemy had yet to appear, and save for the few refugees they now seldom met on the road, the land was completely empty. He was anxious for the fate of the vanguard he had sent forward to scout the land – they hadn’t sent any word in four days, and he hoped they had not run afoul some patrol of Evorin soldiers.
So it was in this state of mind when he first perceived a horseman earnestly riding toward them around late afternoon. He ordered a general halt, and it wasn’t long before the horseman was upon them, and an expectant grin spread across his face.
“What news?” Rodden asked. “Where did you get so fine a horse?”
“We have made contact with Miris,” the warrior of the vanguard informed him. “They are about a day away from us, and they are marching with all haste to join us. When we arrived, they had engaged an army from Evorion, though we managed to rout that force.”
“This is both good and ill. How many is Miris then?”
“About twenty thousand, I would estimate. If we can join them we would have a good chance at beating anything Evorion throws at us.”
“Then we must hurry.”
They marched until dusk, and when the next dawn came, they marched all day. About midday Rodden ascended a hill with one of his scouts. There, across a wide valley, he could barely make out a large, blue banner swinging in the breeze: it was Miris.
“But look,” cautioned his scout, pointing toward the grey valley. There, spread out on the floor like insects, was a third army, with black banners and red campfires: Evorion.
Rodden stared in shock. How had they managed to cut between the two armies just as they were about to join? And it was such a large army too, probably as many as fifty thousand, more than both Miris and Paltoren combined. But how had they known the place the two armies would meet? Was it true their movements were tracked, or that there were spies in their ranks?
“We should attack them at once,” said Rodden. “For now we have the better position from which to drive them out. Let us assemble the troops!”
They arrayed themselves on the hills over the valley while, opposite, Miris did the same. The blue banners faced the orange, with the black below in the center, staring coldly up at both. The two armies gave the signal at the same time, and men charged down toward the army of Evorion. It was perhaps the first battle in a long, long time initiated by the enemies of that dark nation.
The first assault was met with hard resistance from the spears of Evorion, but Rodden kept his men pressing forward, and slowly the line of defense crumbled beneath the incessant onslaught as the soldiers of Miris and Paltoren stepped over their fallen comrades into the enemy line.
Grenheim made all haste as he backtracked up the road that had led him off the trail, following his companion that had arrived from the Miritan camp. His six men raced to keep up with him as he ran, regardless of the weight of his gear or his lack of sleep.
He was utterly exhausted, and while he would never allow such a petty thing as it any importance, it was straining him now, and it was sure willpower that kept him going to rejoin with the two armies coming to a glorious head.
However, when he finally saw their compounding, it was anything but glorious. Banners of orange and blue spanned most of the rim of a large valley, where in the center lay a swarm of black. But the circle was not complete, and even now the black was climbing up the sides to swallow both forces.
“Come!” said Grenheim. “We must help Miris and Paltoren meet!”
He charged down the hill, the others close behind him, all drawing their weapons. He ignored his bow, and fell upon the enemy crawling up around Miris with his bare hands, wresting their own weapons from them and turning them against their former owners. The black force scattered, but the horseman cut off their escape, his sword swinging down on their backs as the other seven plunged into the ranks of their enemies.
The charges from the hills could not be stopped, though many fell on either side. As Miris and Paltoren pressed forward, they pressed Evorion between them like an insect caught between foot and road. And those trying to flee north found themselves facing the vanguard.
At last, Evorion was so pressed together that those caught in the center couldn’t move, and their enemies cut them down like wheat, blanketing the valley in blood. And then Rodden and Virys met in the center, the alliance complete.